The Infancy Narratives in the gospels of Mathew and Luke are filled with rich symbolism. The Evangelists were Christians of the first century whose lives were dramatically changed after the death and resurrection of Jesus. It was their deep faith in Jesus and their concrete experience of the Christian community that informed the theology that permeates the Christmas story.
A lot of mysterious things happen in the Christmas story. So it’s understandable that ordinary people like Mary, Joseph, and the Shepherds needed a little guidance from the angels.
When it comes to angels, it’s not who they are
, as much as what they do
. The word angel means “messenger.” So in the Old and New Testaments, angels represent the presence and propositions of God. It makes sense. God is so far beyond human comprehension, the biblical writers need intermediaries to communicate His point of view.
The angels in Matthew and Luke inform the other characters who Jesus really is: In Luke, Gabriel tells Mary that Jesus will rule over the house of Jacob and his kingdom will have no end. An angel tells the Shepherds that a savior has been born in Bethlehem. In Matthew, an angel tells Joseph that Jesus will save his people from their sins and be called “Emmanuel”, or “God with us.”
Spoiler alert: Jesus turns out to be all those things, but Luke and Matthew want to show how God cooperates with human beings to bring about his Kingdom. All the characters had a choice in responding to the angel’s message. And we celebrate Christmas today because they chose to cooperate.
“One will never understand the infancy narratives without first being convinced that all Gospel material has been colored by the faith and experience of the church of the first century.”
Fr. Raymond Brown, SS, "An Adult Christ at Christmas"